Archive for the My practice Category

Written paper evaluating your practice and future development (1000 words)

Posted in MADA Coursework, My practice on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

Evaluation of my current practice

This MA helped me develop my practice in two main ways: contextualising my practice within relevant traditions of contemporary art, and thinking deeper about the link between technical choices and audience perception, how to use specific techniques and effects to manipulate the audience’s reaction to the artwork.

The main issue I had about my photography practice was that, while it is formally documentary because I do not stage what I photograph, I was not concerned about the ethical issues that typically preoccupy documentary photographers. On the contrary, ambiguity was my main underlying interest, and I favoured distinctive aesthetics rather than clarity of representation. I discovered a ‘niche’ genre of photography: ‘subjective documentary’, that is, unstaged photographs that can technically be considered documentary pictures, but give more insight into the photographer’s mindset than they provide reliable information about the photographed subject. I feel especially close to various American photographers who, since the 1970s, take pictures of backward rural areas, bland suburban settings or urban decay with often an ironic or morally ambiguous subtext (Stephen Shore Robert Polidori, William Eggleston, Alec Soth). Their work share a cinematic look, with dramatic lighting and almost ‘technicolor’ colours that create an ambiguous contrast with the unstaged nature of the scene. I studied the technical aspects of photography, especially achieving good exposure in low light, and digital post-processing, in order to achieve this desired look more efficiently in my own work. Particularly, Robert Polidori explains in an interview how the visual style of his images is crafted to emotionally manipulate the viewer: the apparently straightforward documentary style hides the emotional manipulation aimed at the viewer, making it all the more efficient that it is surreptitious. This process is very close to what I do in my Ghost House and Disciplinary Institutions series, where the real subject is not the architectural documentation of the buildings, but my underlying interest in guilt, outsiderness and the fear of abandonment.

Because my original influences in moving image were from cinema, my research paper studied from three reference films how all the technical elements of moving image may work together to represent on screen the subjective mental experience of a character with an ambiguous degree of truth. After, I continued the research in reference technical books in order to learn more general techniques transferable to my non narrative video-art. I learned the central concept of ‘cinematic mood’, that is, using audio-visual stimuli (such as cinematography, the pace of editing, sound design) rather than narrative techniques to cue the audience about emotions and identification. I used these techniques in my videos in order to trap the viewer inside a subjective experience. In Ghost House, I aimed to keep a very fluid rhythm to give a sense of geographical continuity even though the video was shot at three different houses, to give the impression that a ghost was moving through the house and we were seeing the world through its eyes. In Disciplinary Institutions, I kept a steady rhythm and directional continuity in long corridor tracking shots that progressively get darker, to convey the feeling of powerlessness and crushing fate experienced by the inmates.

Critic A.L. Rees coins the term ‘psychodrama’ to describe a genre of experimental film starting in the 1940s that deal with inner life and conflict. In his reference book ‘Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde’, P. Adams Sitney calls ‘trance films’ a similar tradition of films depicting dreams or inner visions. My own moving image work is closest to the revival of psychodrama and trance-films from the 1990s until now, when artists like Stan Douglas or Doug Aitken applied the aesthetic conventions of horror, noir or other genre movies to either documentary footage, or staged scenes shot in natural settings, and mixed dream sequences with documentary footage, in order to talk about social concerns without formally resorting to the traditional documentary style. I like the aura of moral and philosophical ambiguity that blurring the lines of documentary and fiction gives to a moving image work.

Future development

The possibility to explore abandoned buildings in the UK is limited, because security is tighter than in Ireland, and the available buildings are mostly stripped down and void of artefacts, which make them visually repetitive quickly. I have however identified an old orphanage whose ornamented décor would make a good fit to use in a composite video with my footage from Woodlawn House, a few asylums, and a few abandoned cinemas that would be a new project. I have applied for permission to shoot at the orphanage and two cinemas, but the negotiations are slow and the success rate low. Therefore I want to continue exploring abandoned buildings as an ongoing background project, but also develop my practice in two possible new directions.

Writing my research paper gave me the desire to move away from purely visual video-art and experiment with narrative in a short film where the cinematic mood would be carefully crafted to reflect the character’s subjective experience. I have started writing a short script about a man who, feeling crushed by a life he judges meaningless, seizes the opportunity to escape. But soon his own guilt at having neglected what he considers his responsibilities causes him to throw his one chance away, and self-destruct. I would probably shot in HD video, with natural ‘noir’ lighting, to achieve an atmospheric look at low cost. Many independent filmmakers self produce their first short film: I think the best way for me to achieve this would be to join an independent filmmakers’ group for mutual support, mentoring and skill-pooling.

Another direction for development would be to use digital technology to go beyond traditional video installation by enhancing the feeling of immersion, or by making the images react to the viewer. I am especially interested in using random generator algorithms to simulate the often erratic and irrational way human beings make decisions and choices. To make an immersive audio-visual installation that reacts to the viewer, sensors could respond to movements and vocal triggers from the viewer, and control the sound design and displayed visuals accordingly. The environment could confront the viewer with feelings they may usually prefer to ignore by using audio-visual stimuli that simulate feelings of spatio-temporal distortion, claustrophobia and disorientation, or trigger instinctive emotional responses.

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My space at the MA Digital Art 2011 show

Posted in Degree show, My practice, My shows on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

Below are photographs of my space at the MA Digital Art 2011 show. The Ghost House and Disciplinary Institutions videos loop one after the other on an Imac screen, and I have curated 7 Disciplinary Institutions and 15 Ghost House photographs on the walls.

The show takes place at Camberwell College of Arts, 45-65 Peckham Road, London SE5 8UF, and is open to public Friday 2 September – Thursday 8 September (closed Sunday 4 September, Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 10.00 – 20.00 / Saturday: 11.00 – 17.00).

See more of our work on our website: http://www.mada2011.com/!

‘Ghost House’ screened at Optica festival (Madrid, 16-18 September)

Posted in Ghost House, My practice, My shows, Video with tags , on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

My Ghost House video has been selected to be part of the program of Optica Festival in Madrid (Spain), wich will be take place September 16th to 18th.

The projection will take place at La Casa Encendida, one of the most emblematic places for art and culture in Spain.

The website does not have an up to date program yet:
http://www.opticafestival.com

Research to continue my abandoned buildings photography and video practice

Posted in My practice, Urban Exploration on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

The possibility to explore abandoned buildings in the UK is limited, because security is tighter than in Ireland. It is especially diffcult to get into them for a woman artist working on her own, and planning to spend a few hours inside (It is slightly easier for a small group of individuals to have a quick visit with just the aim of snapping a few photographs, though still a complicated expedition!). The more easily available buildings are mostly stripped down and void of artefacts, which make them visually repetitive quickly. The most visually interesting buildings are tighly locked down (the reason their interiors are in better condition in the first place!)

I have however identified an old orphanage (Silverlands Actor’s Orphanage in Surrey) whose ornamented décor would make a good fit to use in a composite video with my footage from Woodlawn House, a few asylums to continue the ‘Disciplinary Instutitions’ project, and a few abandoned cinemas that would be part of a new project. Abandoned cinemas and theatres would form a promising new project, both because of my interest in cinematic lighting and theatrical framing of my subjects in my lens-based work (as opposed to a straightforward documentary style), and because the Theatre Trust has an excellent database that helps find promising places.

I have applied for permission to shoot at the orphanage and two cinemas (the Astoria and Hippodrome both in Brighton), but the negotiations are slow and the success rate low. Unlike Ireland, there is no easily accessible directory of ‘protected structures’ in the UK, therefore there is no official organisation to systematically use as a first point of contact when trying to get in touch with the owners. The way I went about it was to contact the art services and also the planning services of the city or district council of the area where the building of interest is. If I know the exact street address of the building, I also browse recent planning applications that can be read on the website of the relevant local authority. If a planing application has been filed for the building (which is often the case for derelict buildings), it displays the name and contact details of the owner and/or the architect applying for renovation, whom can then be contacted directly.

Documentary and Architectural Photography and Video

Posted in documentary, My practice, Photography, Professional Development, Video on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I have added to my website a section of documentary and architectural photography and video, separate from my ‘fine art photography’ projects. This section is not complete yet and each project contain only a few photographs so far. It contains 3 types of photographs:

1) Outtakes from my ‘Ghost House’and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ projects, that show the buildings in a documentary way, but do not have enough aesthetic value to qualify as ‘art’. The difference may not be obvious for anyone but me, but in my main series, the focus is on the creative subjective viewpoint, whereas on those documentary outtakes, the focus is solely on representing the building and my creative input as a photographer is limited to just taking a clear photograph.

2) Photography of building of architectural and/or historical interest.

3) Documentary Photography of Raw Art environments.

In both these last cases, the places are interesting by themselves and the purpose of the photograph is solely to show their architectural features in a clear way, the focus is not on a subjective treatment of them.

I added these sections because, after reading Architectural Photography by Adrian Schulz, I thought that Architectural photography could be a promising way to start taking commercial contracts. I would like to develop this documentary/architectural section as a portfolio showcasing a commercial practice, as opposed to my fine art practice.

On September 5th, I will shoot photographs and a video inside Ketlle Yard’s House in Cambridge. This is a house that used to belong to art collectors and has been turned into a museum, but the artworks are displayed as though it was still a private art lover’s dwelling. I am interested in this space because of the unique way the former owners transformed a functional dwelling into a medium of self expression, as though they remodelled a physical space to be a projection of their inner world, filling it with art representative of their time and the interests of the bohemian social circle they were part of.

When this is done, I will display the photographs and video on my website. Something I would interesting in doing commercially would be to take photographs and videos for interior design companies and publications, and for cultural places and historical monuments, so I decided to try and find interesting buildings to train myself on as unpaid projects first.

Post-processing and enhancement of photographs (practical examples)

Posted in Disciplinary Institutions, Ghost House, My practice, Photography, Photography techniques on August 29, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I have applied the post-processing workflow detailed in the tutorial I wrote to the photographs from my ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ series.

Most pictures required little adjustments because I took care to expose them correctly. I discovered that my favourite tools to do slight exposure adjustments were either manually adjusting the curve, or doing selective Brightness and Contrast Correction via Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights.

I did some saturation adjustments to some pictures, either on the whole picture or sometimes for a specific colour channel to bring out a specific detail from the composition. For example, for ‘Cellar Door 1’, I brought the saturation up +16 for Yellow and +18 for green. The effect is more over the top than what I usually go for but because this picture is retro-kitsch on purpose, it’s an appropriate choice.

Before:

After:

I also straightened the geometry of the corridor shots from the asylums when my tripod was crooked due to uneven floors.

Before:

After:

I used light denoising on all pictures. I also use smart sharpening on most pictures, but not on any picture featuring reflections in mirrors, dew on a window or a diffuse, fuzzy light, because sharpening destroyed any of these interesting effects.

I will now detail the workflow I used on the 3 photographs that required the heaviest processing. On most other photographs I processed, while the processing improves print quality, the adjustments are too slight to be noticeable in web quality.

Ghost House III.1

Before:

I redid the whole picure after realising that the ‘Dust and scratches’ filter blurred the image rather than really denoise it though it turned out not to make a huge difference on that photograph.

-Lens Correction.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Corrected blown highlights: Amount 60%, Tonal Width 30%, Radius 30px. Midtones contrast +15%.
-Saturation +10.
-Reduce Noise, Despeckle.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.

After:

Ghost House III.11

Before:

-Lens Correction.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Corrected too dark shadows: Amount 15%, Tonal Width 30%, Radius 30px. Corrected blown highlights: Amount 19%, Tonal Width 30%, Radius 30px. Midtones Contrast +19%.
-Saturation +20.
-Reduce Noise, Despeckle.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.

After:

Woodlawn

Before:

-Lens correction.
-Levels: burn highlights on purpose, they’re just the window.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Burn highlights some more: Amount 100% tonal Width 16%.
Manual Curves.
-Saturation -49 (slightly tinted monochrome)
-Reduce Noise.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.

After:

Repeat similar process with similar picture differently exposed for trial.

Before:

-Lens correction.
-Selective Brightness and Contrast Correction Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Burn highlights: Amount 100% tonal Width 50%. Lighten shadows: Amount 29% Tonal Width 30%
Manual Curves.
-Saturation -27 (slightly tinted monochrome)
-Reduce Noise.
-Smart sharpen Amount 50% Radius 5 pixels.

The result is similar but there is less glare on the wall. I suspect this is due to the original picture, not the processing. I chose this version for printing.

After:

Woodlawn House short video

Posted in My practice, Urban Exploration, Video with tags , , on August 28, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I’ve edited a very short video (1 min 30 sec) from footage shot at Woodlawn House, co. Galway, Ireland. It is an abandoned mansion with striking interior decoration such as grand staircase, mirrors and ornate ceilings, although it has been emptied of everything else for renovation. Its heavily ornamented décor reminded me of the hotel from Last Year in Marienbad, if it had been abandoned, and I tried to replicate the long tracking shots from the film.

I have an old harmonium and wanted to find a musician to improvise on it (I’m a total beginner and just occasionally have fun with it) to get the type of disjointed organ music from the Marienbad soundtrack, but I did not find anyone suitable, so I had to use some ambient music from Edge Effect who makes all my soundtrack instead. I chose a piece with a loose and fluid structure to try and replicate the feeling of ambiguous space with the music coming from no discernible direction characteristic of the Marienbad soundtrack.

I had about 30 min of footage and could only manage to make a 1 min 30 video out of it, the rest was either too similar or not very interesting visually. My ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ videos (5min and 6min 50 respectively) are both composite from footage shot at various places. I would like to find more places similar to Woodlawn, abandoned places with a posh, ornamented decor, but rather clean and empty, where I could shoot more footage to make a longer composite videos, but such places are difficult to find.